Matthew has received the expected letter from his accountant regarding his tax bill and is in the process of carrying out the expected response – head between knees, rocking back and forth, animal wailing. Shortly he will get up, go out and spend vast sums of money, probably in the Majestic Wine Warehouse, with a stop at Budgens for Indian pickles and Cadbury's Dairy Milk.
These post tax-return denial sprees have become known, over the years, as doolallies. It was a doolally that produced the five unopened cases of Tia Maria in the cupboard under the stairs.
Foolishly, while the rocking and wailing are in progress, I sometimes venture a comment; something along the lines of: "Bad news, then?" This will generally elicit a long, pained silence followed by some sledgehammer sarcasm.
Sometimes, Matthew has folded the accountant's letter into a paper plane and thrown it in my direction with a sardonic commentary. "You ask if it is bad news," he will say. "But no, have a look. It's the most tremendous news anyone has ever had in human history. The Inland Revenue has become so besotted with me that I have been excused from paying income tax for 10 years."
This time, however, he says nothing and throws nothing, and there is only soupçon of sarcasm. He just gets up slowly and, clutching his back, informs me that he has chronic sciatica to add to all his other problems. Then he leaves the house, saying: "I am astounded at your remarkable financial acuity. My very own little Alan Greenspan and I would stay to discuss world economics and fiscal policies with you, but I am in great mental and physical pain. I know not where I am destined to end up; it could be at the osteopath or a retail outlet – or it could be a combination of the two, a one stop shop, as it were."
Puzzled by this last remark, I take a trip to Matthew's office shed for investigative purposes. There on his desk is a leaflet from a specialist back shop in Wigmore Street. My worry at this point is not so much the possibilities that the back shop presents, but that on his way there Matthew will pass close by John Bell and Croydon, London's landmark chemist and healthcare emporium.
Bell and Croydon's is without question Matthew's favourite retail destination, and I know that not only has the rubber tubing on his blood-pressure testing kit perished, he was talking the other day about updating his stethoscope and investigating a new range of cholesterol-testing equipment. Most alarming is the fact that a web page on his computer screen is showing heart defibrillators, from £2,500. Let Matthew loose in the home diagnostics section of any chemist on the day of the accountant's letter and we could be talking the doolally to end them all.
But worse is to come. It is not until I am leaving the office shed that I see a Stannah stairlift brochure peeking out of his desk drawer, starting price £3,500. With a green highlighter, he's ringed the "Saxon" model with woven upholstery.
I'm sitting on the sofa, rocking and wailing, when Matthew returns from his expedition, empty-handed but sheepish. The empty-handedness, of course, signifies nothing, because the doolally is likely to involve heavy, mechanical products that have to be delivered. The sheepishness, however, is important.
"Did you?" I ask him.
"Did I what?" he asks disingenuously.
"Do a doolally?"
He pretends to fall into a reverie, adopting a pose that he presumably believes conveys Byronic soulfulness, a worldly, distracted look.
"What did you buy?" I persist.
"What did you buy? I know where you've been. I found the leaflet. I know what you were planning, so tell me. What did you buy and how much did it cost?"
"I know you bought something. Please just tell me. Was it a defibrillator?"
"No, no. I looked at them but in the end I went for a massage chair from the back shop."
"A massage chair. You know, like in motorway service stations. You put a pound in a slot, sit on the recliner and you get a massage. The one I bought, though, is not hideous and noisy, it is really rather distinguished-looking and quiet and the massage is marvellous. I cannot recommend it highly enough. The good news is that they sold me the showroom model with a discount, so it wasn't the full £5,000 and it'll pay for itself in no time if you work out how much we'll save at the osteopath."
"Where on earth will it go?"
"In the bedroom, I think. I know you will learn to love it for its aesthetic qualities as well as the life-changing improvement it will bring to our lower backs. I was thinking of getting a Stannah stairlift if my appalling sciatica didn't improve, so I really have saved us money – unless you'd still like one for Christmas. And I managed to talk myself out of a new stethoscope – so there's another hundred pounds saved."
It was then that there was a knock on the door; a delivery from the Majestic Wine Warehouse of two cases of Kahlua coffee-flavoured liqueur.Reuse content